Scene from my life: the romance of certain old kitchen gadgets

Stuff happens because of kitchen gadgets.

I was prepping carrots for a white bean soup when my vegetable peeler broke.

It would have taken me ten minutes to run out and buy a new peeler. But I, a decent home cook, take pride in paring down my reliance upon gadgets that can be supplanted by gadgets I already own.

I have neither full-size Cuisinart nor microwave. Nor do I have a toaster cluttering up my kitchen surface, accumulating crumbs and mouse incursions (yes, that’s why I tossed the last toaster). Instead, I use a sauté pan from Germany. It replaced my old, intermittently toxic, Teflon pan, makes toast to taste and cleans with a swish of my hand.

Thus, I was fearless as I dumped the broken peeler. Hey, if I was able to toast without a toaster, why couldn’t I peel without a peeler? I grabbed my excellent paring knife and scraped the carrots. A disaster. I threw the carrots into the soup anyway – soups don’t know about ugly – and ran out to pick up a new peeler.

Which went into my essentials drawer with the Zylis cheese grater. But then, like dopey Pandora, I just had to open that other drawer, didn’t I? The drawer containing mysterious implements I thought I’d thrown out years ago.

Gee, this pair of pliers must’ve crept out of my tool box. Except, no, it’s not pliers; it’s a gadget to crack nuts or shellfish. I bought it when a Innocence Project client who’d just gotten out of prison for a crime he hadn’t committed arrived at the law office I then administered, bearing two live lobsters he’d caught and presented them to me as a gift.

They crawled around in my bathtub for three days while I researched the kindest way to boil them alive. I’ll never cook a lobster again. Out goes the lobster claw cracker.

I recently used this funky little pitter on a couple of pounds of cherries, and yes, my thumb was numb and purple for the entire evening. Back in the drawer it will go, however, because in six years I might need it again.

And I’ll keep the diamond file which I will apply, eventually, to the chipped rims of my late mother’s old wine glasses.

Still in its original box is a wicked little gizmo that could get me arrested. Labeled La Culinaire Flavorizer, it’s a…junkie’s syringe. The instructions congratulate me: “You are about to embark upon a truly unique experience in the art of fine cuisine,” an embarkation that somehow I have never launched. I am supposed to fill the syringe with liquid like “beer an [sic] onion juice” and shoot up a roast. I should use it once before throwing it out, right? (How does one juice an onion? Maybe there’s a kitchen gadget for that.)

I can barely glance at the Wüsthof oyster opener without gulping a tranquilizer, because the raw oysters for which I had purchased the opener stubbornly rejected German wizardry, leaving me with a shameful memory of screaming obscenities at them as they lay mute and obdurate in the sink.

Hiding in a far corner are all eighty-nine mucky parts of an electric grinder I used once, to make paté. No matter how much brandy I poured in (a lot), the paté never ascended to gourmet heights. In fact, it kept tasting like…chopped liver. It’s a convenience to blame that particular failure on the grinder, so out it goes.

I dumped a blender which did nothing effectively except clean itself, and a European food mill with insect legs and a medieval grinding arm. Both have been brilliantly taken over by my Cuisinart SmartStik, one of life’s great, multi-purpose kitchen tools, which pureed that aforementioned white bean soup.

But now I’m gazing into the drawer and mourning the empty space where once lay a funny-looking gadget, a simple little citrus juicer. The exterior posed as a plastic egg. Tucked within the egg was a plastic tube about three inches long. One tube end had a teeny flap; the other tube end was serrated. You screwed the serrated tube end into a lemon, turned the lemon upside down, opened the teeny flap and squeezed out only as much lemon juice as needed. (You used the egg-shaped holder to store the remaining lemon.) Oh, and under the teeny flap was a strainer that caught all the pits. A work of genius.
It cost $5.95. Over more than twenty years of constant use, the flap disintegrated and one by one the tube’s serrations broke off. Weeping, I had to put it to sleep as if it were a toothless pet.

Now I wander through the earth’s kitchenware stores but have never found its like. If you know of one, please please tell me. I’ve already made a nest for it in my essentials drawer.

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